Refs Who Invested With Fanan May Have Favored Maccabi

The police received intelligence tips about Moni Fanan's business affairs as far back as two years ago, but the information was simply passed from one police department to another, and no investigation was ever opened, Haaretz has learned. The Israel Tax Authority also looked into Fanan's affairs at about this time, but that, too, ultimately led nowhere.

Fanan, a former manager of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball club, committed suicide on Monday, apparently after a "gray market" (nonbank) lending company in which he had invested money on behalf of many other sports figures went bust, leaving him up to $20 million in debt.

Two years ago, Haaretz has learned, Danny Klein, a coach for the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team, met with a senior officer from the police's fraud squad to give him information about the investment activities of certain basketball referees. The meeting occurred shortly after the May 2007 playoff between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem, in which Hapoel had been ahead until the final moments, when referee Shmuel Bachar made a controversial call: He found Hapoel captain Meir Tapiro guilty of a fifth foul and removed him from the game. That call, which was widely criticized at the time, may have changed the outcome of the game, which Maccabi ultimately won.

Klein's information joined other information regarding Fanan that police already had. Nevertheless, the fraud squad decided not to look into the matter itself. Instead, it transferred it to the economic crimes unit.

Klein confirmed yesterday that he met with a fraud squad officer, but declined to give any details about the meeting. The police said in response that no investigation was ever opened on this issue.

At about the same time, the Israel Tax Authority had amassed information indicating that various figures from the basketball world, including referees, coaches and players from several teams, had invested money with Fanan and earned very high returns. Witnesses told the authority that Fanan would "hand out cash-filled envelopes" to his investors.

The authority therefore began investigating whether there was anything criminal about Fanan's activities. As part of this effort, agents physically tailed Fanan to see if they could catch him handing out the envelopes; they also examined his bank account and those of various people who were thought to have invested with him.

However, these efforts bore no fruit, so the authority shifted the focus of its investigation to looking for evidence that Fanan and/or his investors had evaded taxes. Tax evasion is usually treated as a civil offense rather than a criminal one. Among those the authority investigated on this issue were Bachar, Tapiro, former Hapoel Jerusalem coach Dan Shamir and Zvika Sherf, who today coaches Israel's national team.

Shamir confirmed yesterday that income tax agents had asked him about two years ago whether he had any business ties with Fanan; however, he said, he did not. Sherf said the tax authority never approached him and also denied having invested with Fanan. Bachar declined to respond to Haaretz's questions, and Tapiro could not be reached for comment.

Tax Authority spokeswoman Idit Lev-Zerahia confirmed that an inquiry had been conducted, but declined to give any details beyond noting that it never led to a criminal investigation.